Cuba keeps intense pressure on human rights advocates

More than 5,600 dissidents, journalists and human-rights activists have been arrested or detained in Cuba between January and the end of October of this year, a leading human rights group reports.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation recorded 520 detentions in October alone. For the year, the group says it has documented 5,625 cases, which is “consistent with the high level of political repression in Cuba over recent years.”

The Hablemos Press Information Center reported that 4,542 people had been either arrested or detained during the same period. However, the group’s records do not include all of Cuba.

The two groups most aggressively targeted are the Ladies in White — women campaigning for the release of relatives imprisoned in the “Black Spring” of 2003 — and the Patriotic Union of Cuba. One reason for the high number of detentions is the Cuban authorities’ tactic of using repeated short-term internment to harass anyone who criticizes the system.

For example, Yoani Sanchez, perhaps Cuba’s most famous blogger, was arrested on Oct. 4 while en route to attend a trial. He was held for 30 hours and then released.

Sanchez had been following the trial of Spanish politician Angel Carromero, who was charged in connection with the death of Cuban dissidents Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero in a car crash in July. On Oct. 15, Carromero was found guilty of manslaughter while driving, and sentenced to four years in prison.

Similarly, journalist Yosbel Ramos Suarez was detained twice in October, once to prevent him visiting human-rights activist Vladimir Alejo, and again to stop him from attending a church service.

But not all detentions end quickly. Dissidents Emilio Plana Robert and Rafael Matos Montes were given three and a half and two and a half years respectively, while Reinaldo Castillo Martinez was sentenced to a year and Alberto Ramos Prados to a year and a half.

The human rights group notes that six individuals arrested in September are still awaiting trial, including independent journalist Calixto Ramon Martinez Arias. He is accused of “disrespecting” Cuba’s current and former leaders Raul and Fidel Castro — a criminal offense that can carry a three-year sentence.

Meanwhile, a number of political prisoners were also released. Niurka Luque Alvarez, a member of Damas de Blanco, along with 17 others from the group, was freed on Oct. 5 after being held for seven months. And Amnesty International reported that Antonio Michel Lima was released on Oct. 26, two years and a day after he and his brother were arrested for the crime of listening to hip-hop music with lyrics criticizing the lack of freedom of expression.

Ivette Martinez is an independent journalist in Mexico. This article first appeared on a website maintained by The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict.

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